How to Save Pothos from Root Rot (Identify, Prevent And Fix)


Pothos plant  root affected by root. This pothos root showing root rot symptom.

Most indoor plants like pothos has the tendency to easily develop root rot. Root rot is a plant disease that’s characterized by the browning of the roots at the onset of the rotting stage. It is then followed by the decay of the whole plant.

Since it happens underneath, it would not be easy to know the condition of the roots not until the plant starts showing symptoms.

You have to quickly recognize them to correctly address the problem. Many factors can trigger root rot but they are mostly preventable.

To save pothos from root rot trim off the infected roots. Clean the remaining root system and then treat it with a fungicide to disinfect. Then repot the plant to a new pot using fresh soil mix. In the case of extreme root rot, propagate pothos to get a new plant.

Once you’ve identified the causes, you’ll be on your way to find quick solutions.

How to Identify Pothos Root Rot?

The best way to care for your pothos or any other indoor plants is to be observant. Expertise in plant care and maintenance is gained through a series of hands-on experience with them.

So, if you are willing to take that path, here we have a few red flags to guard along the way.

Keep an eye at how your plants are showing on the outside. It has so much to say about what’s happening underneath.

Roots are Soft and Brown

Pothos root is soft and brown which is symptoms of root rot

Healthy roots should look firm and white. How then do you check if it’s not? One option is to pull off a little portion of the plant and examine the color and texture of the roots.

If it looks brown to almost black and is mushy when touched, then it’s probably experiencing root rot.

You may also use your sense of smell to know. Roots that are rotting would usually smell awful.

Sagging roots is another indication of this disease. Severe root rot will cause the whole roots to be left in the soil when you try to pull them out. They also have that slimy texture.

Yellowing of Leaves

The color of the leaves says a lot about a plant’s health. When the aboveground plant starts to lose its vibrant color, particularly when it turns yellow, then there is an underlying problem. Leaves can also turn black to find out the reason and solution read this article.

Everything that happens below the ground reflects on the leaves. When leaves start to wilt, it is an indication that it is not receiving enough nutrients from the soil.

This is because the roots, which serve as a channel of essential nutrients, is damaged.

Do not mistake it for the yellowing that is caused by aging. That’s another story to tell. Yellowing due to root rot usually involves several leaves, not just the old ones

Delayed Growth

Stunted growth is another indication that something is not normal with your pothos. Surely you would know if your plant is taking a lot of time to develop healthy foliage.

Smaller leaves, shorter stems, and thinner appearance indicate that pothos is unhealthy.

Probable reason then is that roots may not be functioning well enough to sustain plant growth.

You have to check and see how the roots are going down there. They might be having a hard time, that’s why.

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What Causes Root Rot?

Root rot is a common problem among indoor plants like pothos. This is because they are potted plants with limited space.

Such limitation affects the root functions making them more susceptible to diseases. Knowing which factor is a probable cause of root rot would help you prevent it before it happens.

Overwatering

Like the majority of indoor plants, pothos doesn’t need much water unless, of course, you are using water as its growing medium. If you are using soil as its medium, then, overwatering would be harmful.

Adding so much water on the soil would limit the availability of oxygen in the roots. With restricted oxygen supply, roots will have difficulty breathing just like humans do. This then results in stressed plants.

Drowning roots will eventually die and rot. If not prevented, it can lead to the death of the entire plant. You would have to say goodbye to your favorite pothos if that happens.

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Poor Drainage Capacity of Soil

Having soil with poor drainage capacity coupled with overwatering is the worst combination for indoor plants. You are literally killing your pothos with that practice.

When soil is not properly drained, the tendency is for water to store up inside the pots. It creates a stressful environment for the roots the same thing it does when you overwater.

Even if you put just enough water, if drainage is not good, it will still drown the roots of your pothos.

Poor Drainage in Pots

So you’re not overwatering your plant, your soil is good and well-drained, that’s perfect! But still, you see your pothos showing signs of root rot.

You probably need to check on your pots. Do they have enough drainage holes? Can the water freely pass through it? If it’s taking almost an hour for the water to drain, then it’s not good.

Poor drainage in pots will cause the soil to remain wet for a longer period. It does initiate rotting in roots as I’ve mentioned earlier.

Extra-large/small Pots

Aside from having poor drainage, the size of the pots you are using for your pothos can be another reason why its roots are rotting.

Pots that are too big accommodates more soil and has greater water holding capacity. The tendency is that it gets too wet for the roots.

Extra small containers, on the other hand, will cause the roots to bind together. When roots bound together, it clogs the containers. This will make it more difficult to drain excess water.

Pathogenic Infections

There are different types of pathogens that can infect the roots of your pothos. They can be present in the soil you used or the water you splashed on the plants.

Phytophthora which is a water mold can infect the roots and cause it to rot. Infection easily spreads up to the plant’s stems and leaves.

Pythium root rot is caused by a pathogen called pythium which can be taken from an infected potting mix.

Another pathogenic fungus that can infect the roots is Rhizoctonia spp. This pathogen will first work its way on soil and then the roots. Diseased roots will then suffer rotting.

Extremely Low Temperature

Pothos grow well within a temperature range of 60 to 85OF (15 to 29OC). It can also tolerate a lower temperature up to 50OF (10OC) but only for a short period of time. When the temperature drops lower than this, it will no longer be ideal for the pothos.

Extremely low temperatures will cause the soil to remain wet. When the media gets too wet for longer periods, roots will suffer.

If you’ve allowed your pothos to expose under such temperature, that’s probably the reason why it has rotting roots.

Watering on Dormant Periods

Plant dormancy is a period of rest for plants. This is a completely normal process they undergo during periods where the condition is unfavorable for growth.

It does occur during winter where the temperature gets extremely low. Because this is a period of rest, your pothos will look like it’s in a sleep mode.

Nothing much is going on inside the plants so it won’t need much water. Watering during this period will just cause stress to the roots which can lead to permanent damage such as root rot.

Overfertilization

If you’ve been applying fertilizers on your pothos plant and later notice that plants start dying, you might have taken it a little too far.

Too much fertilizer adds extra salts to the soil which makes the roots shrivel.

The damage caused by fertilizer in roots will prevent it from functioning well. They become susceptible to diseases such as root rot.

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How to Save Pothos from Root Rot

Once you’ve observed the signs happening in your potted pothos, it’s time that you take immediate action to prevent any further damage. Don’t delay the intervention if you want your plant alive.

Repotting

The first thing you do to validate that there indeed is a root rot is, of course, to pull the plant off from its container.

By doing so, you’d have the chance to observe closely the intensity of the damage on the roots. Here’s how to do it:

  • Remove the plant from the current pot by turning it sideways and holding on the base of its stem. Tap the container gently to loosen the soil especially if it’s compact. Pull the plant out of the container little by little.
  • Loosen the roots to remove the soil that’s binding it. You can give the plant a little shake in order to get rid of excess soil.
  • Inspect the roots and see if it has rotting portions. Check the color and texture. It must not be brown in color or slimy when touched. If it is, then you have to trim down the damaged roots.
  • Prepare a healthy potting mix, preferably the one that’s been sterilized. This is to make sure that the pathogens have been killed. Get rid of the old potting mix. To avoid cross-contamination, don’t mix them together.
  • Choose the right pot size. Clean it and add a little potting mix at the bottom. Put the plant on top and add the potting mix around it. Make sure to put just enough soil to avoid your plants from sagging.

Watering after Repot

Again, the watering schedule is a crucial thing, especially for newly repotted plants. Here’s how you should do the watering:

  • Water the plant and allow it to drain for a few minutes.
  • Always wait for the soil to completely dry before watering again.

Care After Repotting

Care and maintenance after repotting are not much hard work. But, never ever neglect it because it holds the key to the success of your newly repotted pothos plant.

  • Put the newly potted plant under shade. Remember that the plants have been through a stressful process during repotting. Direct sunlight will add up to the plant’s stress. We do not want that to happen.
  • Repot every 12 to 18 months. Plants would need a fresh set of growing media after some time for it to live longer.

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How to Prevent and Control Pothos Root Rot?

Indoor pothos showing root rot symptoms.

To avoid the stress of having to deal with all the trouble brought by root rot, here’s a list of the preventive measures you can apply. The key is to be careful from the very beginning.

Avoid Waterlogging

Since the majority of the reasons for root rot are brought about by excess water trapped in the soil or container, there is a need to control the water input. Always remember to pour just enough water for the plants.

Basically, when you are hands-on with your plant, you would develop a feel or inner instinct on how much water it needs. Whatever excess water must be drained well.

It would help to use just one container when you water. This assures that you are consistently using the same volume of water every time.

Using the right size of pot also helps in preventing waterlogging. Carefully choose the pots that have good drainage holes.

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Set Up a Watering Schedule

Have a regular watering schedule. The consistent time interval would provide equal space for the soil to dry out first before the next watering.

You can observe this during the first time you water the plants. Count the days until the time it totally dries off. Most probably, that’s the interval you would need to follow.

However, there are times when you need to adjust this depending on the weather. Just always be on the lookout for sudden changes in the environment.

Loosen the Soil

Soil structure is very important. The goal is to increase the soil’s porosity so that more air spaces are present and more oxygen will be available for the roots. Well-aerated soil improves drainage as well.

To do this, amend your soil with organic matter like peat moss. Sterilize the soil before using it as a potting medium. This will kill any existing pathogens that can potentially infect the plant’s roots.

You may also opt to put pebbles at the bottom of the pots before adding the soil. Or, you may try to use a soil that has a sandy texture.

Implement Plant Rotation

Soil-borne pathogens will continue to thrive in the soil as long as the host plant is present. One practice that you can employ is to do plant rotation. You can grow non-host plants until the fungi die and can no longer inflict damage when you plant pothos again.

However, you need to study the behavior of that pathogen to be successful in doing plant rotation. How long before it dies in the soil? What other plants are susceptible to such fungi? You need to carefully consider those things.

Treat the Soil with Fungicide

If you’re having doubts about the condition of your soil, you can initially treat it with fungicide.

As a preventive treatment, a fungicide will prevent the development of fungal diseases in the soil. It cleans your soil from any harmful pathogens.

Alternatively, you can use a bio fungicide which is a form of fungicide that is composed of beneficial fungi.

When applied, it will colonize the soil and attack the harmful ones. This then limits the capacity of pathogens to infect the roots.

Do Not Overfertilize

Make sure that when you apply fertilizer, you do it based on the recommendation. Too much fertilizer will alter the soil environment and affect the root system.

As much as possible use organic fertilizers as an alternative. You need not worry about damaging the roots if you happen to overdo it. Natural fertilizers are slow-release and can last for as long as 3 to 5 months.

Ensure Care Requirements

Maintain a plant care routine. This includes regular checking and inspection of your houseplants. By doing so, you’d have the chance to spot any abnormalities at an early stage.

Pothos has its own growing requirements so you need to treat it differently than the others. Just be patient in dealing with them especially when they acquire diseases. Learn your plant by heart.

Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison

Will Pothos with Root Rot Recover?

Yes, if you are quick to take action. That’s why it’s very important for you to take preventive measures even before you start planting your pothos.

The quality of soil, the pots you are going to use, the volume of water, and the schedule of watering, etc., all of them will have an effect on the plant’s health and well-being.

With careful observation of the plant’s behavior and changes, you’ll easily know whether or not something is wrong.

And, by quickly employing the suggested solutions above, your pothos will definitely have a high chance of surviving this disease.

So, are you ready to check up on your pothos?

Arifur Rahman

I'm the owner of gardenforindoor.com. After completing my bachelor of science in agriculture, I'm serving as a civil service officer at the Department of Agricultural Extension, Bangladesh. I started Garden For Indoor to make your indoor gardening journey easy and enjoyable.

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